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State of the program: Virginia women’s basketball

A number of down years had the program in the dumpster but there’s new energy with Coach “Mox” taking over.

Saint Bonaventure v Virginia Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

As the 2021-2022 athletic year starts to come to an end for the Virginia Cavaliers, we at Streaking the Lawn will be running a state of the program series for the numerous athletic programs that are a part of the university.

Earlier this week, I took a look at the men’s lacrosse program by evaluating the confidence level in four critical categories: success over the last five years, coaching staff, current roster makeup, and the future roster/recruiting. The four degrees of confidence are, in descending order, extreme, decent, mild, and low.

Today, we’ll move on to the women’s basketball program which has been subject to significant turmoil in recent years yet now seems to be on the rise with new blood taking over.

Confidence in performance over the last 5 years: Low

But, before diving into the excitement around this program right now, we’ve got to take a look back at the last five years to evaluate what this team is trying to build on.

Five years ago, Joanne Boyle was entering what would be her final year as the head coach. That season, the Wahoos went 19-14 overall and 10-6 in the ACC and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to South Carolina in the round of 32.

That closed off a seven year run under Boyle when Virginia was 129-99 overall and 53-61 in the ACC. Virginia never finished above 6th place in the ACC with Boyle at the helm yet only finished under .500 overall once in her seven seasons.

Her retirement from coaching that year meant that UVA hit the coaching market looking to make a splash. After rumored top targets fell through, Virginia hired USC and WNBA great Tina Thompson after she spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Texas.

Unfortunately, Thompson’s success on the court as a player didn’t translate as a coach. Her first two seasons were middling with UVA finishing 12-19 and 13-17 and 12th and 9th in the ACC.

In the fall of 2020, the wheels fell off the wagon. Virginia only played five games before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19 as the program was incapable of organizing a system to keep the players healthy and on the court. Frankly, it’s hard not to view that as an indictment of Thompson as a leader who never seemed to buy in to coaching at Virginia.

The 2021-2022 season lasted longer yet was only minimally more successful than the canceled season from the year before. UVA finished the year 5-22 and 2-16 in the ACC with a loss in the first round of the conference tournament to Wake Forest would put an end to the Thompson era.

All in all, the one NCAA Tournament win back in 2018 is really the only positive for the women’s basketball program in the last five years. And even that was with a coach who left the program months later. Other than that, things have continued to trend downhill for the Wahoos, culminating in Thompson’s firing earlier this spring.

Confidence in coaching staff: Decent

Despite the abysmal results of late, there’s actually a solid amount of hype surrounding UVA women’s basketball right now. That all stems from the hiring of one Amaka “Mox” Agugua-Hamilton as the program’s new head coach. Formerly the HC at Missouri State for three seasons, Agugua-Hamilton spent her college career playing at Hofstra from 2001 to 2006.

Since then, she’s steadily risen through the ranks of college coaching, starting as a graduate assistant at VCU in 2006 before coaching as an assistant from 2007 to 2009. Next up, she was an assistant at Indiana for two years, at Old Dominion for another pair of seasons, and then spent 6 years at Michigan State with the last four spent as the associate head coach.

Then, in 2019, Coach “Mox” took over at Missouri State and hit the ground running. In her first year, the Bears went 26-4, 16-2 in conference play, and won the regular season title in the Missouri Valley Conference before COVID-19 shut down postseason play. The next year, the Bears went 23-3 and a stunning 16-0 the MVC, winning the regular season crown again and earned a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. In March, Agugua-Hamilton led the Bears to the Sweet Sixteen only to be beaten by one seed and eventual champion Stanford.

The 2021-2022 campaign was slightly less successful for Coach “Mox” and the Bears. Their overall record finished at 24-8 with a conference standing of 14-4 as they ended the year 2nd in the conference. Agugua-Hamilton and Missouri State still earned an at-large bid and an eleven seed. The Bears beat Florida State in a play-in before losing to Ohio State by seven in the first round.

Since taking over UVA’s program this spring Coach “Mox” has brought a great deal of energy and excitement with her. She’s spoken of playing a fast pace style and has already started building a roster with her players on board.

Confidence in current roster: Decent

Speaking of that roster, despite the struggles of last season, there are a few ‘Hoos coming back who will be critical for Coach “Mox” in her first year. Most notably, the team’s leading scorer — forward Camryn Taylor (12.8 PPG) — is set to be back after taking personal leave from the team last January with only twelve games gone by in the season. Hopefully, Taylor has been able to deal with whatever she needed to at the time and can have a breakout senior campaign.

Along with Taylor, mid-season transfer Mir McLean is back after she scored 11.4 points per contest in her 11 games with the Wahoos last season. The 5’11” wing gave UVA a boost this past season and will be looking to build on that this year. Backcourt teammate and the player who led the team in assists in 2021-2022 Taylor Valladay is also back as is key rotational guard Kaydan Lawson.

Most excitingly, in-state star and Notre Dame transfer Sam Brunelle is coming home to play for Coach “Mox” in the 2022-2023 season. The sixth ranked recruit by ESPN in the class of 2019, Brunelle struggled with injuries while at Notre Dame with a coaching change after the 2020 season only complicating matters.

Now, the 6’2” forward and Ruckersville, VA native will be wearing the orange and blue and hoping to lead the Wahoos back in the right direction. She’s got plenty of talent as a versatile offensive player and is a huge addition to Agugua-Hamilton’s first roster.

Of course, Brunelle wasn’t even the only incoming transfer that has joined the program with former five star guard Alexia Smith coming over to UVA after two quiet years at Minnesota. Agugua-Hamilton also brought former Missouri State class of 2022 commit Cady Pauley with her to Charlottesville while former West Virginia 2022 commit Yonta Vaughn will also be donning the Wahoo colors this fall.

While it’s hard to exactly predict the success of this roster next season, the coalescing of a various parts ought to make this team better than it was last year. A few notable departures — specifically that of Amandine Toi — hurt. But there’s plenty of potential among the 2022-2023 group.

Confidence in future roster/recruiting: Decent

While nobody can predict how Agugua-Hamilton will fare as a recruiter in the long term, the work she’s done in just a few months has been outstanding. Bringing Brunelle home is more than just a huge hit for the time she spends in Charlottesville. It’s a sign that Coach “Mox” is already making her mark as a recruiter, particularly in-state.

It appears that Coach “Mox” is one to find the type of player she likes quickly and pounce accordingly. She’s designing a roster of players to play her style and should get the benefit of the doubt particularly considering the success she had at Missouri State.

All in all, the women’s basketball program seems to be headed in the right direction, or at least a far better one than when Thompson was the head coach. Coach Agugua-Hamilton is already making her mark and Wahoo fans should expect a bounce back year this coming season, even if it takes a few years for Coach “Mox” to mold the program and make it her own.